Erica’s Cancer Journey: “Pinktober”

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

“So far, you’ve survived 100 percent of your worst days. You’re doing great.”

“Chemo: best Brazilian ever!”

Pumpkin spice. Falling leaves. Halloween. Pink.

 Pink? Yes, because that’s the color representing Breast Cancer Awareness Month. October is here, which means pink-infused everything. I have two teeny-tiny issues with that:

1. Just because something is pink doesn’t mean that there is money to be donated behind it, despite the implication.

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2. Only two to five percent of breast cancer research funds go to metastatic, advanced stages like mine: Stage IV.

Metastasis means the cancer has spread to another part of the body from its original site. For example, I have brain tumors, but it’s not brain cancer. It’s breast cancer taking up residency in my brain. The only level of breast cancer that kills is Stage IV. If we cure that, we heal everybody at every stage of it! And if you’re looking to make a difference through a donation to a reputable breast cancer organization, I recommend METAvivor (www.metavivor.org) because the funding goes to research of already metastasized patients: “Our mission is to transition metastatic breast cancer from a terminal diagnosis to a chronic, manageable disease with a decent quality of life.”

Since 30 percent of breast cancer patients will metastasize, METAvivor believes that at least 30 percent of the funds given to breast cancer organizations should be dedicated to metastatic breast cancer, which would help at all levels.

If you are interested in supporting local cancer resources, here are my recommendations:

• Breast Cancer Options provides support groups, information and conferences for all levels of breast cancer. BCO also offers a free annual metastatic cancer retreat; a free annual retreat for children with parents who have experienced any level of breast cancer, Camp Lightheart; and patient advocacy for folks who want support during tests and appointments. I don’t know what I would do without them. They were my first call after my diagnosis. Located in Kingston, Breast Cancer Options can be reached at (845) 339-HOPE (4673), or visit www.breastcanceroptions.org.

• Sparrow’s Nest is an organization that feeds families for free, and it has been a godsend to our crew. Its mission statement: “Sparrow’s Nest of the Hudson Valley provides two meals, once a week, to the families of caregivers and children diagnosed with any type of cancer. Caregivers are defined as legal guardians of children, under the age of 18, living in the home. Caregivers and/or children diagnosed with any cancer that requires chemotherapy, radiation or surgery qualify. All recipients must live within a 35-mile radius of the charity’s Health Department-approved kitchen in Wappingers Falls.” Feel like signing up takes food away from someone else who needs it more? No! There’s plenty for everyone; all families with minor children impacted by cancer are strongly encouraged to connect. And it’s free. Sparrow’s Nest can be reached at (845) 204-9421, or visit https://sparrowsnestcharity.org. 

• The Herbert H. and Sofia P. Reuner Cancer Support House is a lifeline to me. I attend a support group there and appreciate their many programs, including writing groups, information sessions such as end-of-life directives, which I have not seen elsewhere, and much more. Anyone with any type of cancer is welcome, no matter where you are treated, and most programs are free. The Reuner Cancer Support House is located at 80 Mary’s Avenue in Kingston. For more information, call (845) 339-2071 or visit www.hahv.org/cancer-support-house.

All of that said, I am more than my cancer, and so are my peers enduring this disease at any stage. We are more than ribbons, colors and budgets, just as October is more than Cookie Month, International Drum Month and Sarcastic Month, and you are more than the challenges in your life. Thanks for being here. Have some Rumi on me:

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
– Rumi

Head On and Heart Strong!
Love, Erica

Kids’ Almanac columnist Erica Chase-Salerno was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in the Summer of 2015. To read more about her experience, visit https://hudsonvalleyone.com/tag/ericas-cancer-journey.

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